The Grateful Dead carried the love of improvisation they put into their music into many aspects of their business as well—including their branding. Album covers, backstage passes, newsletters, and posters were adorned with rich graphics dripping with color, detail, and imagery.
As with their concerts, you never knew what you were going to get when you bought an album, happened upon an ad for a concert, or received a newsletter. While the band reused certain images consistently—roses, skeletons, skulls, dancing bears, and the "Steal Your Face" logo—how these images were used varied wildly. The font and color of the band's name changed from album cover to concert poster to newsletter. Sometimes you would get a very cool album cover unlike anything you'd seen before . . . and other times you'd get something that left you thinking huh? and shrugging your shoulders.
The cover art for their 1978 album, Shakedown Street, for example, shows a cartoon scene of playful mayhem complete with people boogying in the street. Drawn by Gilbert Shelton, a well-known artist of the San Francisco underground comix scene, the cover is one of motion, a sly wink, and a joke: It's readily apparent that Shelton and the Grateful Dead had fun with this cover—one that their fans would savor in the months and years ahead. ("Shakedown Street" is also the name given to the rows of parking lot vendors you'd find at Grateful Dead shows.)
But then again, the band could produce ...